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Who plays Follow the Leader? Why cultivating your followers is a mark of real leadership

We spend so much time developing our leaders – but what about our first followers?  What’s a first follower?

Picture this – an outdoor music festival, a lone dancer on the hill dancing outrageously with his arms in the air.   Other festival goers sit around watching him, giggling and pointing from the safety of their circles and filming him on their smart phones.

Then something happens – someone else gets up and joins him, pats him on the back and starts to dance alongside in the same way.  This person is the First Follower.  What happens next is the key to the first follower.  Suddenly it’s okay to stand out because you’re not alone; there’s safety in numbers.  People start joining in, one by one, this great movement of outrageous dancing occurring on the hill all laughing, all having a great time. You may have already seen the video by Derek Siver and if you haven’t I can highly recommend it!

This is your first follower – the person that supports a pioneer, an entrepreneur, a risk taker – when no-one else does.



We know of early adopters in marketing terms, but what about HR?

The world is changing, and every day we hear about entrepreneurs creating new products and services that change the way we live. These people need to have their first follower firmly by their side when starting up and the risk is at its highest.

The same goes for those in the corporate world – we all seek meaning in what we do and who we engage with. New innovations, high-risk-high-reward technologies or new markets all start somewhere.

Before we get into the formalised change management programs to support these new ideals, we need to have fostered a culture where belief and experiment work hand in hand.

Here are 5 ways to ensure you are creating the right environment for future innovators and their first followers:

  1. Innovation – does your company have an innovation program? Most businesses now actively encourage and enlist their people to put great ideas forward. Think about who manages the program, ensure they are optimistic thinkers that can see the possibilities in every submission.
  2. Open Culture – what do your culture surveys say about communication and leadership? Ensure your leaders embrace new ideas, opinions and encourage two way communication with everyone from the ground up.
  3. Graduates – do you hire graduates, or Gen Xers? These guys are full of possibilities and great ideas and have boundless energy and enthusiasm. Ensure you have a program that gives them a voice and a way of getting things done. Many companies have challenge programs where groups of graduates get together and work on a project or new idea to present to the most senior leaders.
  4. Celebrate – what kind of celebration culture do you have? Recently the CFO of a large financial services company asked his CEO how they would celebrate a recent win. The CEO replied “open a bottle of wine on Friday night and then back to work Monday”. The CFO had come from a culture where wins were celebrated and enjoyed. Which style works for your company?
  5. Clients & Suppliers – what kind of businesses do you associate with? Richard Branson famously said the key to his success was to surround himself with people who are better than him. Creating relationships with exciting clients or suppliers who are doing things differently give you the edge, help attract great employees and keep things interesting.

Without their trusty first followers, future innovators would be dancing solo on the hill with an audience too afraid to jump up and join.  It takes bravery to be a leader but guts to be the first follower too.  So cultivating and embracing your followers is a mark of real leadership. Leaders will inspire and lead change when they genuinely connect with the people around them.

If you want to think about things differently, come talk to us at a-ha. We can help you develop programs for your leaders and followers, create a culture that cultivates innovation and develop surveys to understand how your employees feel about working with you.

If you prefer experiencing , you could talk to us about A-HA! Playground – a new and exciting way of challenging the status quo.


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